Is history repeating itself?

With the ascendence of far-right populist politics, Scott Houghton explores parallels with the pre-war world of the 1930s.With the ascendence of far-right populist politics, Scott Houghton explores parallels with the pre-war world of the 1930s.

The far-right in Europe and the United States have been gathering pace for a number of years but only recently has it had such a sizeable place in modern politics, especially since the end of the Second World War.

They arrive at a time when many feel isolated by mainstream politics and where many feel that politicians don’t listen to them. They have garnered support from those still reeling from the consequences of the 2008 recession and a corresponding fall in living standards has added to the feelings of loss, fear, and isolation. For many in the United States, this has been ongoing since the 1970s. The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in November 2016, as well as his authoritarian and racist rhetoric, has led many to ask an alarming question: is history repeating itself?

“What are we seeing now is a new kind of authoritarianism that has ceased on the inability of mainstream politicians to change the present system”

The answer in short is, to a certain degree. This is not the world of 1939 at the start of the Second World War, or even 1933 when the Nazis came to power. The world is wholly different, it’s by no means as militaristic or authoritarian, nor was it anywhere close to being a democracy. Germany, completely contradictory to its reputation now, was viewed as a barbaric militaristic nation in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. What is troubling about today is the rhetoric; again we see the same kind of divisive de-humanising language which has organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International worried. The language which instead of address concerns with immigration in a sensible way has veered drastically towards the xenophobia of the 1930s.

“What is troubling about today is the rhetoric; again we see the same kind of divisive de-humanising language ”

Comparisons of Trump with Hitler are not as obvious between the comparisons of Trump to Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey, or the dictator Lukashenko in Belarus, and nor do I see that with the other far-right leaders in Europe either such as Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in The Netherlands, or with UKIP here in the UK. What usually attracts these people is power for its own sake, instead of a definitive corresponding ideological commitment, like Hitler or Mussolini had. Instead these leaders claim to be working for the people when in reality what they favour is massive tax breaks for the wealthy, cutting of regulation like workers’ rights, and the curtailing of the press. Rather than engaging with public concerns over immigration rationally, they have exploited fears for their own gain.

In sum, we are now witnessing a return of the divisive and xenophobic language reminiscent of the 1930s in the wake of the Wall Street Crash in 1929, as a means to win power. Yet, this is not the 1930s. What are we seeing now is a new kind of authoritarianism that has ceased on the inability of mainstream politicians to change the present system. To catch a glimpse of the future, look towards Russia.

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